When India returned from Australia, after having registered their second successive Test series win Down Under, stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane and No. 3 batsman Cheteshwar Pujara were hailed as two of the heroes of the triumph. While Rahane’s hundred in the Boxing Day Test was India’s perfect counter-punch to Australia in the wake of the Adelaide disaster, Pujara returned battered and bruised. Significantly for India though, he locked himself up at one end and allow the stroke-makers to play around him. In the wake of the hurtful loss in the World Test Championship (WTC) final to New Zealand though, Pujara and Rahane’s spots in the Test team have come under the scanner.
Along with skipper Virat Kohli, Pujara and Rahane were expected to be key performers for India with the bat in the clash against the Kiwis. However, all three failed to deliver, with not a single half-century between them in six innings combined. Kohli and Rahane got to 40s in the first innings but perished before converting the score into a big one. It was a massive disappointment as such scores may boost a player’s average, but they don’t win the team a Test match. Pujara fared even worse on the biggest stage of all, scoring only 8 and 15.
A prolonged lean spell for Pujara and Rahane
Their defiance in Australia and the team’s triumph dwarfed some of Pujara and Rahane’s previous failures. Then, the England series was dominated by the Indian spinners as the result of which the duo’s shortcomings were again sidelined. Statements like ‘I am a team man’ and ‘I don’t care about critics’ displayed a sense of self-confidence in the duo. However, the glaring failure in Southampton has thrown open India’s batting woes for detailed discussion among critics and fans. Irrespective of their immense contribution to the Indian team, it cannot be ignored that Pujara and Rahane have been under-performing for an elongated stretch of time now.
Since the hundred against Australia in the New Year Test in January 2019, Pujara is yet to reach three figures. He did put a stubborn act to defy Aussies earlier this year, but otherwise, he has hardly done anything of note. In his last 11 Tests, he has only scored 527 runs at an average of 26.35. Pujara averaged only 22.16 in the four Tests against England at home. When India toured New Zealand for the two-match Test series early last year, he returned with only 100 runs to his name at an average of 25. In the WTC final against the same opponents, he managed merely 23 runs. Neither did he bat long enough neither did he score runs, putting pressure on the other batsmen. His failures destabilized the Indian batting.
If we look at Rahane’s numbers in the last 11 Tests, they are pretty similar to Pujara’s. He has only managed 135 runs at an average of 28.15. Take out the hundred in the MCG Test last year, and his figures would read even worse. Rahane could not build on his wonderful ton, and had an atrocious series against England at home, managing just 112 runs at an average of under 20. Like Pujara, he too had a forgettable tour of New Zealand last year, scoring only 91 runs in two Tests at an average of 22.75. For long, Pujara and Rahane’s poor run had been brushed under the carpet, but with the WTC final disaster, they have nowhere to hide.
Perform or perish time
Despite their consistent failures, India are likely to back Pujara and Rahane in the five-match Test series in England. However, both will have plenty to prove against a strong England bowling attack. Notwithstanding their previous achievements, it will be perform or perish time for Rahane and Pujara against England.